SUBMARINE DISASTERS — RING A BELL?

sindhurakshak– V.N. Balakrishna | March 03, 2014

Ahmedabad | When Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi was asked to go last Wednesday over submarine INS Sindhuratna disaster that left two officers dead, it raised a fundamental question: why are our national security eggs placed in an obsolete Russian basket?

It all started with the Great Russian bear hugging us soon after Independence and politicians started getting weaned on socialistic ideology whose aftereffects is still impacting us on the way we think and make decisions. West has superior equipment to offer with value for money but the government continues to upgrade obsolete Russian equipment at prohibitive costs to “keep India safe.”

Alarm bells began ringing in August last year with INS Sindhurakshak, a 16-year-old sub upgraded at cost of Rs.480 crore, sinking and killing 18 men. Both Sindhuratna and Sindhurakshak are Russian vintage models built on contract between Ministry of Defence and the notorious Russian arms agency Rosvooruzhenie

With China and Pakistan bolstering underwater combat capabilities we refuse to spend Rs 300 crore for a submarine rescue vehicle when disasters striking us repeatedly. Nor do we have stealth submarine to counter China. All we have is a motley 140 ships and submarines, half of which are 30 years old. Experts say 18 to 24 subs are needed, instead of the 13 at present, for multitasking roles like patrolling Gulf of Aden, securing Sea Lanes of Communication (where our energy routes lie), and routine patrolling of maritime borders.

A strange self-destructive streak haunts our politicians. Clearly, India’s aging fleet of conventional submarines despite Russian upgradation at prohibitive cost is threatening to go the MiG-21 way as most of the planes have turned into ‘flying coffins.’

Navy was to induct 12 new submarines last year with another dozen in 2012-2030 timeframe. But politicians have been offering nothing but grandiose plans. One was the 30-year submarine-building plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) way back in July 1999. Not one of the 24 has been inducted. With a submarine’s life span 25-30 years, 13 metal-fatigued submarines spell disaster.

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had warned of operational availability of submarines being as low as 48% due to prolonged refit and life-extension programmes and yet, sadly, corruption had to dog the French Scorpene deal, touted as much needed respite to our ageing fleet. With Rs 500 crores allegedly changing hands with those making the decisions, the deal also became infamous for its “naval war room leak” with classified information reaching wheeler-dealers of global arms trade

Shockingly Scorpene deal pegged at Rs 18,798  in 2004 shot up by extra Rs 3,500 crores following prolonged nine-year delay due to steady cost escalation. The first of these six SSK Scorpene submarines may be ready by 2016-17.

Dishonesty being the hallmark of Indian political class is a disturbing trend in all defence deals right from 1948 when VK Krishna Menon, the then High Commissioner for India in London, signed a deal worth Rs 80 lakh with a UK firm for jeeps for the Indian Army without observing normal procedure. The army rejected the jeeps and the money paid was never returned back.

In the recently inducted aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya — originally Admiral Gorshkov, a decrepit Russian aircraft carrier decommissioned in 1996 — the price agreed upon in 2004 was $974 million for refurbishment. But curious turn of events led to a 5-year delivery delay and with India having already paid $400 million in 2008 was subjected to steady arm-twisting by the Russians demanding nearly thrice the price of $2.35 billion. The Cabinet Committee on Security caved in and the exorbitant price was paid. CAG too was very critical of Vikramaditya calling it a second-hand warship with a limited life span, 60% costlier than a new one.

Today Defence Minister AK Antony brings back old memories of VK Krishna Menon for the sheer policy paralysis evident in our defence preparedness. His reign is also marked by widening of trust deficit between the armed forces and defence ministry.

What really shook the country was the government reducing defence budget in a fit of pique by Rs. 10,000 crore following leak of General VK Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister about the critical shortage of tank ammunition that would last merely for four days in case of war.

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